Reviews & Critiques: A Difference

(a follow-up to not without honour)

As a reader, you have probably reviewed books by numerous sorts of authors, including the quick as well as the dead.  The dead, as a comment on Not Without Honour pointed out, are easy to handle: you don't have to worry about their feelings when summarizing your own feelings about their works.  But the living are not so immune, and when you are reviewing their works, especially if you know the author, there is the danger of hurting the author's feelings.
The first truth an author should realize is that, once his book is out for public reading, it will be torn to shreds.
This is one reason why I feel compelled to go back and rewrite my novel Adamantine.  Regardless of how much people have enjoyed the first draft (or whatever draft it is at now), I can see numerous flaws, too many to patch up, and I know that once I have published it, all I will have to depend on is the assurance that I have done my utmost, that I believe in it, that I know it is good.  Because once it is public, people will rip it to pieces.  Some will like it, and that will be delightful, but others will hate it, and that will be crushing.  It is always crushing.  There is no tempering the blow of discovering someone has looked at your work, into which you put more energy and care than they could imagine, and has despised it.  As the author, you have only your own conviction to fall back on.
The weight of the world is not on the reader's shoulders.
I stated in my last post that our views of a book are often extremely subjective and often reflect only our opinions of a work, not the quality of the work itself.  It is not easy to get past our own self-centeredness when we review and realize that this is only our opinion, and that our view is usually not the clearest or the most accurate.  Unfortunately, sites like Blogger and Goodreads have aided and abetted this egotism in allowing reviewers to post their opinions online in public, thus inflating our opinions of ourselves as critics.  Humans are self-centered, prideful creatures: who of us has really stopped in the middle of a review and thought, "Is this me, or is this accurate?"

Then what is the point of reviewing if we are all so subjective as I say?  Perspective.  A reader's reaction to a book can be useful to other prospective readers.  I am self-professed quixotic, and I realize the likelihood of a single blog post (e.g. this one) will not change the presiding paradigm of the reviewing public.  But I say it anyway.  When I review a book, in general I am giving my basic opinion, and I am conscious of that.  I liked it, or I didn't like it - if I'm especially lucid, I might even be able to say why.  In the end all I am doing is getting my thoughts out and hoping that they may prove useful to other readers like myself.
There is a difference between reviewing and critiquing.
This cannot be stressed enough.  There is a difference between reviewing and critiquingReviews are generally public opinions of a work, how individuals reacted to it, a layman's compass.  They are vitally important, but admittedly subjective.  They are the footprint a work leaves when it passes through the midst of you. 

Critiques, on the other hand, are professional business.  We are speaking specifically of literary works: critiques are done by educated, qualified individuals who have studied not only literature, but how literature ought to be done.  (Very important note: in case anyone is suspecting me of being aloof and elitist, I do not consider myself qualified to critique a literary work.)  Critiques useful for the author come before the work has been published.  They are solicited and private.  They are done by dependable, educated, qualified persons.  They are not reviews.  They are not opinions.  Once the work has been published, any actual critiques, once again done by qualified persons, are for the reader, not the author: they afford the reader as unbiased an overview of the work as can be hoped for, but they do not help the author because the work is already done. 
How do I review a work and still stay friends with the author?
Remember this vital difference between critiquing and reviewing.  Remember you are giving your thoughts on the work (I am assuming few of us are actually trained in the art of critiquing literature).  And above all, be rational.  No one likes to hear that a reader disliked a book, but I know that I, as an author, appreciate it when I read even a differing opinion that was still presented rationally, logically, in some cases almost clinically, and which left me as the author out of the picture.  I appreciate it when a reader takes the time to address my work as a serious object, and did not resort to treating me as a straw-man.  Even if I have to suffer the sting of knowing someone finished my book and ended up not liking it, I still respect their view because I know they put reasonable thought into it.  I often say that I will always take an honest pagan over a hypocritical Christian any day of the week, including Sunday, and this same idea applies to dissenting views that are rationally formed.  I can respect them.  We can still be friends.

(it is also a very good idea in any walk of life to never give unsolicited advice)

2 ripostes:

  1. Hmm. A good way of putting things. I don't do many reviews because unless I have something to add to the conversation I don't really want to. I mean if I really love a book I'll rave about it but if not eh what's the point? "If you don't have somethin' nice to say don't say nothin' at all"